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No reduction in HIV levels in men who have sex with men despite a decade of prevention work

1 February

 

Despite a significant increase in HIV testing and treatment, the number of new HIV infections in men who have sex with men (MSM) has remained unchanged over the last 10 years in England and Wales, according to a new study by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Health Protection Agency (HPA). The research also reports undiagnosed HIV infections remained high and annual new diagnoses rose steadily from 2001-2010. These results show that HIV transmission amongst MSM remains a significant public health issue.

 

Dr Daniela De Angelis, lead investigator at the MRC Biostatistics Unit, comments:

“Unlike previous publications, our modelling approach was used to disentangle the competing contributions of increased rates of diagnosis of existing HIV infections and of HIV incidence (new infections) to observed HIV diagnoses in MSM. By applying the model to the latest surveillance data we were able to provide a comprehensive picture of the HIV epidemic amongst MSM in England and Wales over the past 10 years”.

 

Published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, the research found no evidence of a decline in levels of HIV over the last decade, with new infections plateauing at 2,300–2,500 annually from 2006 onwards. Undiagnosed HIV infections in MSM increased from 7,370 in 2001 to 7,690 in 2010. Despite a 20 per cent reduction in the average time between infection and diagnosis, from 4 years to 3.2 years, 38 per cent of infections in 2010 were still diagnosed after the time patients should have started antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

 

Analysing additional HPA surveillance data from the same period, the authors found these trends occurred despite the fact that MSM HIV testing had increased by 3.7 times to 59,300 STI clinic tests per year in 2010, and that the  proportion of MSM receiving HIV care had risen from 69 per cent to 80 per cent) with a greater proportion of MSM eligible for ARV treatment accessing it (from 75 per cent to 84 per cent).

 

Dr Valerie Delpech, HPA head of HIV surveillance, said:

“We are seriously concerned about the level of ongoing HIV transmission and the significant impact this is having within the MSM community. The most plausible explanation for these results is continuing unsafe sexual behaviour coupled with insufficient HIV testing, showing us just how vital safe sex programmes engaging MSM remain.
 
“MSM should get an HIV and STI screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners – and we urge clinicians to take every opportunity to offer the test to this group. By coupling earlier and more frequent testing with programmes that reduce unsafe sexual behaviour in MSM, whilst maintaining high levels of treatment and retention in care, we could substantially reduce HIV transmission.”

 

For access to the paper or to speak to the lead researcher, please contact press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk or call 0207 395 2345

 

Notes to editors

Nearly one in 12 MSM in London and one in 20 in the UK now have HIV (47 per 1,000). MSM can reduce their risk of getting or transmitting HIV, or a sexually transmitted infection, by:

  • Always using a condom correctly and consistently when having sex with new or casual partners, until all partners have had a sexual health screen.
  • Avoiding overlapping sexual relationships and reduce the number of sexual partners.
  • Getting an HIV and STI screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners

 

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. www.mrc.ac.uk

The MRC Centenary Timeline chronicles 100 years of life-changing discoveries and shows how our research has had a lasting influence on healthcare and wellbeing in the UK and globally, right up to the present day. www.centenary.mrc.ac.uk

 

The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk. The HPA press office can be contacted on 0208 327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk.

 

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